In light of the recent rise in violence and harmful rhetoric targeting Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, Andover’s AAPI students, faculty, and staff have fostered a sense of solidarity and belonging in many ways: a Stop Asian Hate Community Vigil, various town halls, an art exhibition, a writing workshop, reading group discussions, and a film screening.
Coreen Martin, Instructor in English, is spearheading the “New Narratives at Andover: Reclaiming Asian Identity through Story” art exhibit, which, inspired by the New Narratives exhibition curated by former Andover staff member, Leslie Condon, featured artworks by Andover community members that touched upon “the many complex issues that Asians and Asian Americans navigate daily as part of our lived realities” (Condon, Curatorial Statement).
“[Leslie Condon] had this amazing exhibit, and so I brought her to my Asian/American Literature and Film class to share this exhibit with us. And then I realized that it was such a powerful story—that art can convey so much about the complexity of Asian identity. So I thought, well, we have all those stories here on-campus…. why don’t we do it? and Leslie was like, ‘Oh my god, yes, go for it.’ So we call it the ‘Andover Edition,’ because we really want to honor the original exhibit, and its intentions—to reclaim our stories, the diversity, the beauty, the pain, the joy, the creativity, the magic, solidarity, of our Andover Asian community,” said Martin.
The exhibit can be viewed online at https://www.aapiandover.com/ and features a diversity of creative expression, including that of Victor Tong ’22. Tong submitted an oral version of a poem that he wrote over the summer when numerous instances of anti-Asian violence occurred in his hometown of Vancouver, Canada.
“The piece includes a list-poem. I chose to write a poem in this format to represent my own experiences as a child of Chinese immigrants. I remember grocery clerks patronizingly repeating instructions to my mother when she needed help. I also remember teachers and coaches getting frustrated with me when I needed them to clarify. This piece primarily focuses on the victimization that Asian Americans feel in society. Asians often feel at fault and blame themselves for the prejudice of others. This piece does not shy away from the idea of self-blame. Instead, it uses it as a launching point for reclamation of identity,” wrote Tong in an email to The Phillipian.
Another initiative on-campus was a writing workshop led by Writer in Residence R. Zamora Linmark, in which AAPI students contributed to the ArtRage Renga, a collaborative haiku, by adding a verse in response to contemporary and historical violence against AAPIs. The ArtRage Renga is currently on display in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library.
Rhine Peng ’24 found participating in the workshop to be a very impactful experience, as it encouraged her to reflect on her experiences and dig deeper into her personal stories.
“I think talking about race can be uncomfortable and admittedly for me it still is, but stepping outside my comfort zone to get personal really felt better than making generalizations, and I appreciate how the Renga project pushed me to do that,” wrote Peng.
Another event, the screening of the Academy award-nominated film “Minari,” was organized by Aya Murata, Associate Director of College Counseling. Many students, including Evalyn Lee ’23, gathered in the Gelb Tent on Friday night to watch the movie.
“It was strange and almost empowering to have a large group of Andover students watch a movie so uniquely Korean American, and for the audience to actually be so captivated by the film. However, despite Asians/Asian American success in Hollywood, film, or music, there is still so much hate and violence targeted at the AAPI community that is largely underreported. This dichotomy leaves Asians hanging between being perceived as the model minority where our success is used to oppress other minorities or treated as inhuman, like being cussed at, called a ch*nk, fetishized, exploited, and harassed,” wrote Lee.
Most recently, Andover invited Cathy Park Hong, a Korean American poet and “New York Times” bestselling author of her book, “Minor Feelings,” to speak at the All-School Meeting (ASM) on Monday. Many students, including Lee, found the talk empowering.
Lee continued, “When Cathy Park Hong came to speak at ASM, she discussed how racial trauma is not a competitive sport and the importance of solidarity between communities, specifically Black and Asian. I think personally as an Asian American, I’m learning to stop invalidating my experiences and to liberate myself from the shame that whiteness thrusts onto people of color.”
Students and faculty have also been involved in off-campus efforts, such as participation in the annual Asian American Footsteps Conference (A.A.F.C.). The A.A.F.C., which was founded in 2011 by Murata, was hosted virtually by Phillips Exeter Academy this year. Over 50 Andover students and 10 campus adults attended the conference.
Hazel Koh ’21 led a workshop titled “Making Minor Feelings Major” at the A.A.F.C. with Amy Jiang ’21, Melinda Zhang ’21, and MJ Engel ’13, Teaching Fellow in English. According to Koh, the presentation was inspired by reading group discussions that occurred in the summer of 2020 about “Minor Feelings.”
“In [“Minor Feelings”,] Cathy Park Hong explores her Asian American reckoning, and she tries to put into terms all the feelings that she’s felt as an Asian American woman. And so [Jiang, Zhang, Ms. Engel, and I] felt that this was particularly relevant—this feeling of invisibility, this feeling that what we’re experiencing is not really important—was super relevant, especially in the context of this rise in anti-Asian hate crimes and what happened in Georgia. And so we thought it was particularly relevant that students participating in the A.A.F.C. could come to terms with this and realize that what they’re feeling isn’t minor,” said Koh.
Koh, who is the former co-president of the affinity group, Asian Women Empowerment (A.W.E.), has taken part in organizing many of the initiatives on campus.
“For each of these events that we’ve been holding, a lot of students have been showing up, which means students are looking for these opportunities to come together as a community and talk about what they’re experiencing right now, so that’s really good,” said Koh.
Martin, one of the faculty advisors of A.W.E., agrees with Koh and feels hopeful about these efforts empowering the AAPI community, both inside and outside of Andover.
“The more we speak up, the more we want to speak up, and the more we want to speak up, the more we speak up; it’s a momentum that’s going to keep growing. And what’s so great about it is that we’ve educated ourselves to be building solidarity internally and externally. That’s what’s so different about this moment—it’s not just about looking inward, it’s also about looking at our allies and looking at other people, other minorities and other communities of color and realizing we are all connected,” said Martin.